*Potential Spoiler Alert: You Have Been Warned*
With an explosive storyline like the one Spotlight is sporting, it’s easy to think you know what the focus of the movie is going to be. The Catholic Church protecting its priests from the accusations of molesting children all over the world? Yeah, that’s what the movie is about. But the thing is, it’s not, at least not entirely- this movie is a perfect look into journalism, why these reporters do what they do, and the work that goes into uncovering a story like this, and as a journalism major, I’m happy to see it portrayed in this way. It’s about the priests, sure, but it’s also about everything it took to make that story happen.
In 2001, the Boston Globe is ready to change as its new editor-in-chief, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber, looking remarkably like Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine) arrives from Florida. Baron goes to the Spotlight team, which specializes in investigative reporting and assigns them to flesh out a story on sexual abuse allegations of a Catholic priest against a minor and a possible cover-up by Cardinal Bernard Law (Len Cariou). As the four-man team begins their investigation into sealed documents, reports from victims and clips from the past, they discover that the story does not end at this one priest; it is a systematic problem throughout the entire Catholic church and Archdiocese. The team also begins to see that there may be more to blame than just the Catholic church.
The Spotlight team is made up of several great actors doing wonderful work in their parts- several of the reporters recreated in this film have remarked how accurately their respective actor portrayed them. Mark Ruffalo, who plays Mike Rezendes, is wonderfully inquisitive- his entire being screams movement in this role, constantly tapping or squirming and bringing to mind the idea that this is a man determined to get to the bottom of a story, just what you’d want in a reporter, and his never-ending activity keeps you engaged with him. Rachel McAdams, playing Sacha Pfeiffer, takes a different approach- she highlights the connection to sources, being the confidant of those who are putting their entire lives on display for the story, and it’s easy to feel indebted to this woman. She worries about canceling with sources because she knows how important the story is to them, and when a policeman interviewed as a witness says “I shouldn’t be saying this”, McAdams firmly says “I think you should,” because she knows how important it is to bring the story to light. Stanley Tucci also plays his role of the evasive yet determined attorney Mitchell Garabedian well, not only giving the appearance of distrust for those who want to run the story but also the tired caring for those he represents who’ve been taken advantage of, by both the Church and by the deals they’d been given.
But perhaps the best performance is the more subtle internal battle displayed by Michael Keaton who plays Walter Robinson, the editor of the Spotlight team. He constantly treads the line of wanting to push a little farther for the story and also worrying about the consequences of writing an expose of the Catholic Church in a very religious community. He has graduated from a Catholic school (right across the street from the Boston Globe, actually), has friends who are part of a Catholic committee, and (unlike his new, Jewish editor-in-chief) is known to the readership of his paper. His quiet doubts and constant pushing of his team are fascinating to watch, and his style of reporting (and acting) is subtle and close to the chest, so you never know what you’re getting until you get it, and it’s a nice way to watch.
The real beauty of this film is it’s simplicity. There are no flashbacks here, no over-the-top shots of widely dramatic moments of the actual events the reporters investigate. It is the steady, methodical uncovering of information that gives this film its charm. While this movie took place many years ago, the slow uncovering of the facts makes it feel as if we are all learning this for the very first time. None of the victims’ stories are portrayed, merely spoken of, giving them a privacy and yet making them more raw and heart-clenching. As the investigations go further, the suspense builds as the team uncovers more and more information, making the audience tense and relax in their seats over and over again, as if we are part of the discovery of this startling development. The story builds and builds to Ruffalo’s passionate speech at the climax, and at no point did I want the film to be anywhere than where it was or explain more than they explained.
There were a few moments that dragged along- reporter Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) discovers that there is a treatment house for priests in his neighborhood. It is constantly shown him looking at it, going back there, and there is a sense that something is going to happen. Will he confront the priests? Will he be challenged by the Catholic Church for some reason? No matter what we think may happen, nothing ever does, and it while it almost feels like a good thing, it also feels like an letdown, leading up to something that never happens. And while it is not the point of the story, the background on our main characters are very light- McAdams’ relationship with her very religious grandmother is interesting, but not highlighted for more than a few minutes. Ruffalo, who says he has a wife, is never shown with her or gives any indication as to why he is always home alone, but perhaps this is not important, just a minor hole that I feel should be filled because I’m so fascinated with these people that I want to know more about them.
All in all, I’m disappointed that this movie probably won’t see the recognition it should- surrounded by the opening nights of blockbusters and widely anticipated sequels, Spotlight will probably slip through the cracks (indeed only one theater in my area is even showing it). It’s a shame, because both the story and the movie itself should be seen and heard, and I will definitely go back for a second showing.